Harry Black and the Tiger

What should one aim for in life, passion or contentment? Ultimately, that is the question posed by Hugo Fregonese’s Harry Black and the Tiger (1958). The answer which is proposed is one heavily influenced by notions of honor, both honor earned and honor bestowed, and there is something very fine about the means through which this accommodation of heart and conscience is arrived at in the movie.

India, a vast country filled with sound and color; the opening sequence presents both as the camera roams through forest and grassland, accompanied by the chattering of monkeys, the susurration of parched vegetation, pierced violently by the screams of alarm and the final shocking spilling of blood. The beauty and the terror of nature are encapsulated succinctly in that scene, one which establishes the threat posed by the presence of a man-eating tiger. This hasn’t been the first outrage, nor will it be the last, but the district authorities have already taken steps to ensure the killer is stopped. To that end, another killer has been employed, one Harry Black (Stewart Granger). Harry is a former soldier, an officer in the British army who lost a leg after being wounded during an escape from a German POW camp in the last war. He now makes his living hunting down and killing those aforementioned man-eaters. In the course of stalking his prey, Harry comes upon Desmond Tanner (Anthony Steel) and his wife Christian (Barbara Rush), both of whom have played significant roles in his life. Desmond is the old friend whose fear and lack of nerve cost Harry his leg, while Christian had aroused forbidden passions within his heart during a brief visit to Scotland. All of this is told via a couple of flashbacks as Harry recuperates from the wounds he suffers in a botched attempt to shoot the tiger, a near tragedy once again resulting from Desmond’s weakness. This is the point at which Harry is himself cornered, maneuvered by fate and circumstance into a position requiring him to make potentially life-changing decisions, and forcing those around him to do the same.

In a sense, Harry Black and the Tiger is a very straightforward story, one which can be approached as simply a blend of exotic adventure and romantic drama. However, as with all good movies,there is a great deal of depth should one wish to seek it out. As I stated above, it raises the issue of what one wants out of life, and thus which path will have to be followed. The focus is on three less than satisfied people: Harry, Desmond and Christian. Harry is the one most conspicuously disillusioned, making a living from death and burying himself in the wilds a world away from his home. Something similar could be said for Christian and Desmond, the former claiming to have reached a place of contentment but quite clearly still haunted by regret, while her husband is weighed down by the dreadful burden of his own inadequacy. The dilemma facing this trio stems from the fact that the prize of fulfillment for any one of them threatens to cast the others into despair.

The role of Harry Black was a comfortable fit for Stewart Granger at this stage of his career, making good use of that quality of jaded introspection he was able to tap into. There is a telling moment during his convalescence when departing nurse Kamala Devi says: “Good luck with the tigers, Mr Black… inside and out.” Prior to this we have been viewing both the tiger and Harry, hunter and hunted (though which one occupies which role may be open to debate) wounded, recuperating and recovering. As I see it, the tiger is a reflection of Harry, or maybe a reflection of the predator lurking within, that formidable and potentially destructive power he carries inside him. It is a power which threatens to consume him because in recognizing the need to harness it and trap it Harry is steadily and ruthlessly tearing his own being apart.

What follows is a personal crisis for Harry, one brought on by the clash of desire, conscience and regret, leading to a kind of temporary moral surrender. In his physically and emotionally vulnerable state, he gives in to all those fears he had repressed and rejected, retreating into a whisky-fogged breakdown. His rescue is effected by the joint efforts of his friend Bapu (a terrific piece of comic/philosophical acting by I S Johar) and his soulmate Christian. Barbara Rush is characteristically impressive not only as the woman who has captured the hearts and of two quite different men but also as the devoted mother – her every move essentially a juggling act alternating between the call of head and heart, duty and desire. Nevertheless, his ultimate salvation lies in his own hands, his release can only be achieved by confronting his own demons. In essence, he must face down the tiger, he must face himself. Having done so, perhaps the greatest sacrifice of all must still be made.

This builds into the climactic scene of the movie, one which sees Granger, Rush and Steel all shine. After triumphing over nature, both in a broader and also in a more intimate sense, Granger returns to collect the reward he feels is now to be his. It is here that the choice between passion and contentment will be made, and it’s to the credit of the performers, director Fregonese and that ever masterful writer Sydney Boehm that there are no emotional pyrotechnics on display to blunt the effect. Instead, we get a beautifully judged and sensitively handled vignette where little is said explicitly yet much is conveyed subtly and surreptitiously via glance and gesture. The resolution is bittersweet yet gratifying in its inevitability and appropriateness.

Harry Black and the Tiger is a 20th Century Fox movie and was released on DVD in the UK almost a decade ago. That disc, which I understand is now out of print, was pretty good for the time. The anamorphic CinemaScope transfer still stands up quite well today but there is no denying that it is the kind of picture that would benefit from the higher resolution offered by Blu-ray. Of course the chances of Fox titles making it to Blu-ray these days are, shall we say, slim. This is the third film by Hugo Fregonese I’ve featured on the site this year and I find it is always a pleasure to view and write about his work, especially a strong effort such as this. Harry Black and the Tiger is film I have seen multiple times over the years and one I hope more people get the opportunity to become familiar with.

As an aside, yesterday it was 14 years to the day since I published my first tentative blog post. The site has evolved a bit since then, and I hope I have too, but it continues to be a pleasure and privilege to have interacted with such a wide range of movie lovers. Thanks all.


Recognizing the familiar in the atypical; that sounds like the kind of triumphant banality commonly attached to a piece of cod sociological theorizing. In fact, it’s just my own clumsy way of pointing out how even the apparently uncharacteristic works of great filmmakers are frequently nothing of the sort. When one has in mind Fritz Lang’s time in Hollywood it’s tempting to think of film noir and leave it at that. However, that would be not only a mistake but a disservice to a man whose mastery of cinema meant that genre labels represented no limit, but instead offered extended opportunities to tackle the themes which interested him. Moonfleet (1955), despite its smugglers and 18th century trappings, is recognizably a Lang film and features elements that crop up all through his  work.

Young John Mohune (Jon Whiteley) is an orphan, on his way to the village of Moonfleet on the Dorset coast to look up the man his mother told him to find after she had passed. With a lowering sky and a deserted road, the atmosphere is already vaguely threatening and a tumbledown churchyard watched over by a stone angel heighten that feeling. When a claw-like hand is suddenly thrust from below the ground, well we’re veering into the realms of a Gothic nightmare. That sense is hardly dispelled when the youngster awakens in a local tavern to see a gallery of grotesques gazing down on him. Nevertheless,  he’s a phlegmatic type and unfazed by the experience, which is just as well as he’s about to witness a flogging and a shooting, carried out by the man he’s been traveling to see. Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger) is an ambiguous character, a man of some means but clearly a rogue too. It’s apparent that Fox and the boy’s mother had been close but it’s also plain that he’s reluctant to have responsibility for the child’s welfare thrust upon him. The lad is a determined sort though, neither intimidated by the violence all around nor the dissipated and bawdy company his new guardian regularly keeps. As the trappings of a horror movie ebb and flow like the tide itself, the adventurous elements of the story gradually dominate, with the prospect of lost treasure being recovered, and all the romance that promises. While the characters hunt for a fabulous diamond, the fact is both Fox and young Mohune are mining for a different kind of treasure, the former slowly coming to the realization that he might just have a chance of regaining some semblance of the honor he’d thought forfeit and the latter, well his treasure is the boundless optimism of youth and a simple faith in the the notion of friendship.

A colorful CinemaScope adventure with swashbuckling elements is unlikely to be the first mental image conjured up with the mention of a Fritz Lang film. Nevertheless, as I said above, Lang wasn’t a servant of any particular genre. He even made a number of westerns – Western Union, The Return of Frank James, Rancho Notorious – with varying degrees of success and all of those were at the very least interesting and bore signs of the director’s stamp. His films frequently deal with concepts of justice, of an uneasy relationship between morality and hypocrisy, where ambiguity resides on the periphery of society and the facade of respectability is ever at risk of slipping and revealing something altogether less savory underneath. Moonfleet weaves all of this into the fabric of its narrative and the heavy reliance on sets and the studio backlot suit the director better; with Robert Planck’s cinematography casting brooding shadows, Lang creates some wonderfully atmospheric tableaux in the church, the cemetery and the crypt below, where the monuments to the past watch impassively over the  intrigues of the present, all punctuated by the rich score of Miklos Rozsa.

Moonfleet is a movie with what I would term a deep cast, meaning there is an abundance of well known and instantly recognizable performers right down the list. Despite that, the focus remains firmly on Stewart Granger and Jon Whiteley at all times. Granger had a real flair for playing characters who had a dismal opinion of themselves, if not outright villains then heroes (or perhaps even anti-heroes) burdened with doubt and locked into a lifetime of regret. His Jeremy Fox quite literally carries the scars of a thwarted love, and there is the sense of some distant guilt hanging heavy on his conscience. His courtship of villainy and vice feels more like a self-imposed punishment than an indulgence. His potential redeemer comes in the form of Whiteley, who it is strongly hinted but never explicitly confirmed may be his own son. It’s not so much the innocent adoration but perhaps more the steadfast belief of the boy that imbues the man with the moral courage he thought he had squandered. There is something both moving and uplifting about the coda that brings the movie to a close, where Whiteley throws open the gate to his ancestral home, opening up the path to a better future and asserting in response to the doubts cast by the parson whether his guardian will ever return, not with boldness but with a simplicity borne of conviction: “He’s my friend.”

As for the rest of the cast, the majority play types of varying degrees of worthlessness. George Sanders could take on the part of a cad  with his eyes closed, his debauched and decaying aristocrat, purring with honeyed ennui plots and schemes in vain. His faithless wife is portrayed in her trademark slinky style by Joan Greenwood, a woman who will be forever associated with the role of Sibella in Kind Hearts and Coronets in this viewer’s mind. The striking Viveca Lindfors is a venomous blend of the pitiful and the malignant as Fox’s spurned mistress, beautifully framed with a serpent as companion in the image above, although I feel she’s underused. To some extent, the same could said of Melville Cooper, John Hoyt, Dan Seymour, Jack Elam and, in his final screen role, the unforgettable Skelton Knaggs.  Sean McClory fares better as the dissatisfied innkeeper/smuggler and gets to shine in one of the movie’s big set pieces – the face-off with Granger, where he swings a cruel looking halberd, must have been something to behold projected on the big screen.

Moonfleet has been released on Blu-ray by Warner Brothers but, for now at least, I’m still reliant on my old French DVD. It’s been a while since I last watched anything by Lang, which is odd as he has always been one of my favorite directors, and I’ve had it in mind to feature this title for some time. I believe it hasn’t the greatest reputation among Lang’s works but I like it a lot. It has mood and atmosphere, chills and adventure sharing screen space with tried and tested themes of the director, and what’s even more  important, there’s a positivity and buoyancy at its core that I cannot fail but respond to.

Gun Glory


I happened to be involved in an online discussion elsewhere today, and the talk turned to how certain movies can be categorized. To be specific, we were chewing the fat over those films that fall at the extreme ends of the spectrum, the great and the shockingly bad. Now I’ve long been of the opinion that few movies truly belong in either of those positions; the vast majority occupy some kind of middle ground, with some of us drawn to particular virtues that appeal to us while others are less enamored. I’ve pointed out before that I’m a little uncomfortable with the term “masterpiece”, mainly due to all its high-pressure implications, but I’m no fonder of the label “turkey” either. Anyway, all of this put me in the mood to hammer out a short piece on a film that I think it’s fair to call average. Gun Glory (1957) is what I would think of as an extremely typical film, nothing special but entertaining enough and with at least a handful of positive things in its favor.

The return of the prodigal is an ancient story, although the variant in question here sees the father rather than the son cast as the errant figure. Tom Early (Stewart Granger) is a man who abandoned his wife and son, a gambler and gunman of great notoriety. The film opens with this character making his way back towards the home he has long neglected. A brief stop off in the neighboring town shows that his reputation precedes him, but his optimism remains undimmed as he happily purchases a trinket as a gift for his wife. However, his arrival at his ranch brings him down to earth and back to reality with a jolt. His son, Tom Jr (Steve Rowland), is less than impressed, and then there’s the sickening realization that the woman he once loved has passed away in his absence. Still and all, blood ties are powerful and the father and son come to a kind of edgy understanding – the wrongs and mistakes of the past can never be forgotten, but it’s human nature to try to forgive and move on. Therefore, the two men make an effort to piece together their relationship, Tom Sr being especially keen to win back the trust and respect of his son that he so casually squandered before. He even takes in a lonely widow, Jo (Rhonda Fleming), as his housekeeper in an attempt to restore something of a family atmosphere. The western genre is packed with stories of men desperate to outrun their past ans sooner or later these guys come to realize that it’s an impossible task – the past must be faced squarely and dealt with before any door to the future can be opened. In this instance, the past is represented by the arrival of a ruthless cattleman, Grimsell (James Gregory), bent on driving his herd through town and obliterating it in the process. As such, it’s both an opportunity and a challenge for Tom Early Sr – an opportunity to prove himself and do something decent, but also a challenge to his desire to leave his violent ways behind him.



Roy Rowland was what you might call an efficient director of programmers, movies that were a cut above B pictures but just shy of being A list features. He handled a couple of pretty good westerns in the 1950s (Bugles in the Afternoon and The Outriders) alongside a very strong film noir (Rogue Cop). Films like this called for a brisk, no-nonsense style and Rowland was well suited to that kind of role. A good proportion of the action takes place indoors but there are opportunities for location work too, and the director showed that he was more than capable of composing attractive setups for the wide lens. Gun Glory, which was adapted from a novel by Philip Yordan, isn’t one of those non-stop action movies but when it does come along, Rowland shoots it well with a good sense of spatial awareness. More than anything though, this follows the classic 50s western template of a remorseful man seeking to make amends for his errors.

Stewart Granger was building on his successful western role in Richard Brooks’ The Last Hunt which had been made a year before. He seemed very much at ease in the frontier setting, showing off some highly impressive horsemanship skills in the process. In fact, it’s Granger’s strong central performance that is the greatest strength of the film. It’s clear enough that he’s playing a man carrying around a heavy burden of guilt – blaming himself for not being there when his wife died, and for failing to support his son during his formative years – but he never lays it on too thick. Still, there can be no doubt how he feels about himself; the short scenes of him visiting his late wife’s grave tell us all we need to know without the need for dull, expository dialogue. Rhonda Fleming was given a strong part in the movie as the widow who works her way into the lives and hearts of the two Early men. Her role served the important function of drawing both of these men out and helping them achieve a true reconciliation. I think it’s also worth pointing out the romance that develops between the characters of Granger and Fleming is nicely judged, mature and realistic. To be honest, I felt that Steve Rowland (the director’s son) presented one of the weak links in the film. Again, the part of Tom Jr was a pivotal one yet Rowland never felt convincing to me. As for the supporting players, Chill Wills pops up once again and gives a warm performance as the town preacher and one of Granger’s few allies. James Gregory was another of those familiar faces, a character actor many will recognize straight away, and he provided a nice foe for Granger. There’s also a semi-villainous role for Jacques Aubuchon as a crippled storekeeper with his eye on Fleming.



Gun Glory is available as a MOD disc from the Warner Archive in the US and there’s also a Warner/Impulso pressed disc from Spain. I have that Spanish release, and it presents the film very strongly. The transfer is anamorphic scope taken from a very clean and sharp print. I can’t say I was aware of any noticeable damage and the colors are well rendered. All told, there’s really nothing to complain about on that score. The disc offers no extra features whatsoever and subtitles are removable, despite the main menu suggesting that this is not the case. Anyway, we get a very attractive looking film with two good performances  from the stars. The story itself is engaging enough, although there’s nothing on show that genre fans won’t have seen before. As I mentioned above, the direction is capable and professional without being particularly memorable. All told, this is a moderate western – interesting and entertaining but not exactly essential.

The Last Hunt

Westerns, especially the classics of the 50s, tackled just about every theme imaginable, often passing comment on universal concerns that transcend the genre itself. That of course is one of the western’s great strengths, it’s ability to resonate widely. However, the genre has also dealt with what might be termed more direct concerns too, actions and events that impacted  on the shaping of the frontier and the course of US history. Bearing in mind that the old west was essentially a wilderness, it’s no surprise that animals occupied such an important place in the minds of those who lived there. There are countless examples on film highlighting the importance to the native people and settlers alike of the horse. How many times have we witnessed the contempt and hatred directed towards horse thieves? In a primal landscape covering vast distances, the theft of a man’s sole means of transport was naturally one of the foulest crimes. However, the horse wasn’t the only animal which played a significant role in the development of the frontier. The buffalo, that great beast which sustained and dominated the lives of the plains Indians, was every bit as vital in its own way. As such, it’s perhaps surprising that The Last Hunt (1956) is one of the few westerns that concentrates on the fate of those creatures which once roamed in huge numbers across the continent.

The Last Hunt is the story of two quite different men, Sandy McKenzie (Stewart Granger) and Charlie Gilson (Robert Taylor), who enter into an uneasy partnership. Sandy is a famed buffalo hunter, but he’s also a man sickened by killing and has abandoned his old profession to turn his attention to the cattle business. However, fate has other ideas and, when a buffalo stampede wipes out his herd, a chance meeting with war veteran Charlie leads him reluctantly back to hunting. While Sandy has seen more than enough bloodshed, Charlie has something approaching an obsession with death. Charlie’s wartime experiences have clearly left a mark, and he seems to live to kill. The contrasting approaches of the two  men is highlighted during one of the hunt scenes. Having established a stand, the camera switches between this pair as they go about the slow, methodical business of picking off the buffalo herd. Charlie’s features are fixed in a mask of sadistic delight as one animal after another drops and breathes its last. Conversely, Sandy is stricken by conscience and is on the verge of breaking down and weeping at the thought of the devastation he’s participating in. If the radically different perspectives of the partners weren’t a great enough source of conflict, their rivalry is further complicated when Charlie captures a young Indian girl (Debra Paget) and takes her as his woman. Along with his wide sadistic streak, Charlie is also an unashamed racist with a deep suspicion and hatred of the Indian. He considers the girl to be his personal property, one of the spoils of war if you like, to be used or abused as he pleases. Not only does Sandy regard this kind of boorishness as an affront  to his sense of morality and civilized behaviour, but he also finds himself developing feelings for the girl himself. Charlie’s mounting paranoia and Sandy’s growing self-disgust, fueled both by their slaughter of the buffalo and the presence of the girl in their midst, see the tensions rise inexorably. Sooner or later, these two will have to face off and settle their scores, and the climax of the movie is a memorably chilling one in every sense as the final confrontation takes place during a freezing blizzard.

Richard Brooks started out as a writer, scripting films such as Brute Force, Crossfire and Key Largo before moving into directing with the Cary Grant suspenser Crisis in 1950. He didn’t work much within the western genre, making only Bite the Bullet, The Professionals and The Last Hunt. As a writer, he tended to tackle complex and controversial subjects and his first western as director (with a script credit too) saw him continue in a similar vein. The Last Hunt works in the theme of racism alongside its ecological message; the systematic elimination of the buffalo was essentially a government sponsored programme once the realization set in that the army wasn’t going to defeat the Indians through conventional military tactics. The buffalo had a special place within Indian culture, providing not only a source of food but also many of the essentials of life. The Indians used almost every part of the animals to make clothing, shelter, and tools. Therefore, it’s impossible to overestimate the status of these creatures as far as the native people were concerned. Brooks highlights the mysticism involved when he features a white buffalo, a sacred figure. This device also serves to draw attention again to the differences between Charlie and Sandy: Sandy is entranced by the sight of such a rarity, while Charlie sees only profit and immediately slays it. Although this is, superficially at least, a fairly simple tale, there’s a lot going on and Brooks blends it all together very successfully, ensuring that a brisk pace is maintained without sacrificing any of the necessary character development.

Robert Taylor is an actor whose work I’ve featured regularly on this site and The Last Hunt offered him one of his very best roles, maybe even the best. Generally, he played heroic figures but this film saw him take on the persona of an irredeemable rogue. I’ve read comments in the past which indicated Taylor had  doubts about his own abilities as a performer, but roles such as Charlie Gilson prove that there was no basis for such harsh self-criticism. I always feel the best and most effective movie villains have the knack of drawing a degree of sympathy or pity from the viewer, and that’s the case with Taylor’s portrayal here. There’s no question that Charlie is a bad lot, but Taylor brought a certain fragility to the part and that adds an interesting variation to what could have been a bland and routine character.

Stewart Granger might seem an odd choice for a western hero but here, in his second genre picture, he’s both comfortable and convincing. Apparently, Granger took to the whole western experience off-screen too and was well thought of by the crew. He’s very effective as the conscience-stricken counterbalance to Taylor’s killing machine and the two actors play well off each other. The Last Hunt is another of those movies with a small central cast; they’re usually quite successful at rounding out the characters and offering some more depth. In this case, the two protagonists benefit more from the increased focus though. Debra Paget as the captive Indian girl is never named and remains a slightly colourless presence throughout, albeit a strikingly attractive one. After appearing in Broken Arrow, this was Paget’s third outing as an Indian maiden and it must have looked like she was going to be permanently typecast at this point. Whatever you say about Paget, I don’t think anyone could mistake Russ Tamblyn for a native American. Nevertheless, he was cast as the half-breed hired by Sandy and Charlie, and his sympathetic presence is used to emphasize the blind bigotry of the latter and the relative enlightenment of the former. Best of all among the supporting players though is Lloyd Nolan, another initially questionable choice for a western. Nolan had a very  urban air about him and I tend to think of quick talking cops and the character of Michael Shayne whenever I see him. Still, he really embraced the part of the one-legged buffalo skinner and turned in a very  memorable performance.

For a long time The Last Hunt was only available on DVD in Europe. However, the film has recently made its US debut via the Warner Archive. I can’t comment on the quality of that particular transfer though as I don’t own a copy. I have the French release by WB, which looks reasonable although the scope image is letterboxed and non-anamorphic. In common with the majority of Warner titles released in Europe, it’s a bare bones affair with optional subtitles that can be deselected on the setup menu. The movie itself is a real keeper, a bit of a neglected gem that looks good, has fine performances, and makes a number of interesting points about man’s impact on the environment and race relations. The wider availability of this title on DVD may hopefully raise the profile of a film that’s well deserving of some renewed attention.

Footsteps in the Fog


Victorian London, murder, illicit relationships, blackmail – Footsteps in the Fog (1955) has all the ingredients of a classic turn of the century potboiler. It’s the kind of lush, polished production that’s beautiful to look at, yet you know it conceals a bitter little heart that’s hard as a diamond. British cinema always had the knack of capturing the spirit of gothic tales, and this would reach its zenith a year or two later when Hammer really hit their stride.

In fact, Footsteps in the Fog opens almost like a Hammer production, with a clergyman solemnly intoning over a fresh grave in a rain drenched cemetery. Stephen Lowry (Stewart Granger) has just become a widower and his wife is being laid to rest. As his friends drop the pale, grief-stricken figure off at the sombre gates of his home, we see him make his lonely way up the drive and on into the empty house. As he pauses on the threshold of the drawing room, the camera remains focused on the back of this dejected man who stands gazing at the portrait of his dead wife above the fireplace. The shot now switches to a close-up of Lowry’s face as a slow smirk spreads across his features. Thus we learn of the two faced nature of the protagonist, a man that we soon discover has poisoned his wife for her money. This dark secret is also uncovered by the young maid, Lily Watkins (Jean Simmons), who has been harbouring a passion for her employer. Rather than being horrified or repulsed by the knowledge, Lily sees in it the opportunity to blackmail her way, first into the position of housekeeper, and then (she hopes) into her master’s heart. But nothing is ever that simple; Lowry is in love with the wealthy sweetheart of a young barrister and regards Lily as an irksome obstacle in the way of his future advancement. The question is how he will deal with Lily, and what his real feelings towards her are. The plot takes numerous twists and turns before reaching a conclusion that manages to be bleak, ambiguous and satisfying all at the same time.

The plot of Footsteps in the Fog is an engaging and absorbing one, but the film’s real strength lies in the performances of the two leads. Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons were a married couple at the time and they were able to bring some real chemistry to their more intimate scenes together. Granger was an old hand at playing in these kinds of period pieces, and seemed to effortlessly make a frankly despicable character charming – one who I caught myself rooting for at times despite his loathsome actions. However, good as Granger is, the real star of the show is Jean Simmons. It is her Lily Watkins that’s the driving force behind the story with her beguiling mix of trusting devotion and ruthless amorality. With a tight, solid plot and classy lead performances any director should be on fairly  safe ground. Arthur Lubin was mainly a journeyman director, with a string of Abbott and Costello and Francis the Talking Mule pictures behind him, but he does a good enough job and uses some nice low angle shots to help generate suspense and atmosphere. The movie is neatly paced (coming in at under an hour and a half) and really only lags in a few scenes – mainly those with Belinda Lee.

Footsteps in the Fog has been out on DVD in the UK for a bit over a year now as a Sony release exclusive to MovieMail. The film is presented anamorphically at 1.78:1 and the transfer is generally a good one with nice colours and really only suffers in one short segment. A little after the twenty minute mark the image takes on a very dupey appearance and there’s some colour bleeding. Fortunately, this only lasts for five minutes or so and I think it would be unfair to criticise the overall presentation based on that. There’s not much in the way of extras, save for the trailer and hard of hearing subs, but the film is something of a rarity and I’m just glad it’s available at all. I think it’s a cracking little movie and it should be a real pleasure for anyone who enjoys stylish gothic thrillers.

The Wild Geese


As a boy I used to positively devour westerns and war movies. My friends were pretty much the same, and I can still see us, in the schoolyard or on the way home, re-enacting the action scenes from whatever movie we had seen on the telly the night before; this was back when there were only three channels (actually four in Northern Ireland) so what one had seen, all had seen. Every once in a while you got lucky and you had the chance to go to the cinema and see a big new movie. That afforded you a certain kudos as you were then in the enviable position of being able to relate all the gory details to your mates. What we all yearned for were movies with plenty of guns, explosions, daring escapes and as little mushy romantic nonsense as possible. Such was the case with The Wild Geese (1978), a film that seemed just perfect when I first saw it on release. Looking back on it now, I no longer think it’s perfect but it still retains the power to charm me, and the passing of time hasn’t made it any less fun to watch.

The story has Colonel Faulkner (Richard Burton), an ageing mercenary soldier, arriving in London for a clandestine meeting with millionaire businessman Sir Edward Matherson (Stewart Granger). The purpose of the meeting is to arrange a raid into a fictitious African nation to free from prison a deposed leader who is facing imminent death. This will require the recruitment of the necessary personnel and the formulation of a viable plan for a rapid extraction. Too much focus on the behind-the-scenes stuff can easily scupper this kind of movie, but the finding and hiring of the officers (Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger) and men is carried off in an entertaining way and never slows down the pace. Soon the action has moved to the training camp in Africa, where the RSM (Jack Watson) gets to deliver some marvellously insulting language to the biggest names in 1970s cinema as he kicks, bullies and cajoles his out-of-condition squad into shape. The mission itself starts off well and everything looks like it may run according to schedule, but some devious machinations back in London ensures that the mercenaries will be abandoned to the tender mercies of a ruthless dictator and his Simba battalion. With their rescue flight aborted, and facing certain death, they have no choice but to trek across hostile country with the vague idea of maybe stirring up civil unrest on the way. Under constant attack, Faulkner leads his ever diminishing force south to an abandoned airfield where their last chance for salvation appears in the form of an old, beat-up, twin-engine Dakota. The climax is pure blood and thunder stuff, with Faulkner’s men making their desperate dash for freedom as the air is filled with lead and the ancient plane chugs and sputters in the background.

Andrew McLaglen was arguably at his best when directing this kind of Boy’s Own adventure, and he managed some quite effective scenes here. The action set pieces are all well handled, the stand outs being the scene where a jet strafes and bombs the mercenary column while it’s stalled on an exposed bridge, the parachute jump sequence, and the bloody but exciting climax. The movie runs well over two hours but McLaglen controlled the pace so well that it seems a lot less. The stars of The Wild Geese were all getting a bit long in the tooth for this kind of exertion but the four leads give amiable enough performances and seem very comfortable around each other. While Burton definitely looks the worse for wear, that weary quality kind of fits the role he’s playing. The old-time soldier of fortune looking for a last big score in a world that’s changing around him plays like an amalgam of Burton’s own character and that of Mike Hoare, who served as technical adviser on the film. Neither Harris nor Moore really have to stretch themselves in the acting department but both at least give the impression they were having a hell of a lot of fun. Hardy Kruger gets a bit more to do as the crossbow wielding Afrikaaner who has his preconceptions challenged and finds himself rethinking his position and prejudices. Stewart Granger has only a small part yet he brings an oily condescension to the part of the duplicitous Matherson that makes for a great screen villain.

The Wild Geese has been out on DVD for a while now, and the R2 disc from Mosaic presents the film pretty well. The transfer is anamorphic and quite clean. There’s an entertaining commentary track featuring Roger Moore and producer Euan Lloyd, and a documentary on Lloyd’s career. All told, it’s not a bad package and provides good value. There is a new edition slated for release in March but I doubt if it will add anything new, we’ll see. This isn’t a very deep or serious movie, but it is entertaining, and if you want something that will recall memories of far-off schooldays and more innocent times The Wild Geese is just the ticket.